Squeeze and Their Master Playbook
The ‘80s were a great time to grow up even without internet and cell phones. One of the greatest things about times besides economic prosperity was new music. What has become nicknamed as “corporate” rock where everything seemed on a certain style, schedule and whatnot, had given way to punk, post-punk and new wave. My generation literally witnessed the second “British Invasion”. Most of us were too young or not quite born yet to remember The Beatles, Rolling Stones The Kinks and The Who, even though they were or are on our current playlist, we took to bands like Durand Duran, ABC, Def Leppard, Eurythmics, The Fixx, Madness, Modern English – you name it. We enjoyed a new British invasion. Instead of Ed Sullivan to introduce us to the new wave (the music style as well) we had this thing called Music Television or MTV. I know I’ve harped on about MTV in the past but the original network showed music videos around the clock. To fill time they had to use a lot of material. Some bands we heard of others were one hit wonders like Romeo Void and The Members (“Working Girl”). Many of the bands that were hits on MTV had their only exposure to American audiences thanks to MTV. Some like myself would whet our appetite for new music on MTV and often head to the mall to the Record Bar or venture out a bit and hit either Cat’s or Paradise Records (the latter was beside the Ankars in Brainerd and eventually replaced by Cat’s before it moved across from Eastgate Mall).
Local record store chains around here were really cool back in the day. They often employed various musicians – someone the rise, others burned out or too cool for their own good. Often the staff would choose what albums we heard in the store while we shopped. Unless corporate gave an order to play something really mainstream to boost and encourages sales like Michel Jackson or Styx, it was left to the staff. They would go out of their way to play bands and albums I had not heard of at the time like Devo, B2-5s, The Alarm – you name it. More often than not most of these albums weren’t found in the regular section. Instead you had to go to the “import section”. There, my best friend Chuck and I would go through the stacks of vinyl (usually) and it opened up a new world to us, not to mention looking at all the unique album cover art. The albums often came enclosed in heavy plastic outer wrap and there would be an orange or other brightly colors sticker that read “Import”. Sometimes we recognized artists but some of the singles or albums were ones we had never heard before. One of those bands I discovered through the import section and then MTV was Squeeze.
I remember seeing the video for “Black Coffee in Bed” and being struck by the melody and with a song structure and harmonies that reminded me of The Beatles. Add to that singer Glenn Tilbrook looked like a young John Lennon. I was quickly enamored. I think KZ106 had played “Tempted” a year earlier, but that’s about where my research ended on the band. “Black Coffee” never really took off locally and local radio was flooded with band like Def Leppard, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Thompson Twins for example with the latter two mentioned one hit wonders to most except me. This began my musical snobbery. As college went along one of my cooler fraternity brothers who like obscure bands and turned me on to a bunch had a cassette of Singles – 45s and Under, a compilation of Squeeze’s early work that was successful only marginal at best. By the time MTV introduced me to Squeeze the band was going through their first breakup – one of three or four to date. Being from around here Squeeze came nowhere near here to my knowledge and being a poor college kid I couldn’t afford the road trip or even a dependable vehicle to make the venture – let alone find someone willing to go. Then Babylon and On was released and I got excited briefly as two songs charted and more than one fraternity brother had the cassette and/or CD. Still no dependable transportation and the follow up Frank did not keep the band’s momentum going in the states. Putting out a new album every couple of years with no radio promotion despite positive reviews. The band went of hiatus again in 1998 and would be over 12 years before Tilbrook and his songwriting partner and bandmate Chris Difford would pick up the Squeeze moniker again.
During the hiatus Tilbrook and Difford had marginally successful solo releases and I got to see Glenn in concert many times. Like many in the audience I patiently waited, listening to his new material and eventually the material by his new band, The Fluffers, but I quietly hoped and prayed he would humor me and do a Squeeze song. He always did and that made the wait worthwhile, not that his solo material wasn’t good, I wanted to hear Squeeze live and this was the closest I figured I would ever get. And then things changed suddenly earlier this year.
I received an email that Squeeze was going on a world tour called “The Difford and Tilbrook Songbook” tour as the two principals surrounded by the current lineup with a few adjustments since reforming seven years ago to play songs from not only Squeeze catalog but also solo material from Tibrook and Difford, thus the name of the tour.
Leading into the show it had been a rough week for me. The music nerd that I was, I was still spinning from the deaths of Eddie Money and Rick Ocasek of The Cars, two bands I never got to cross off my bucket list. I had a few chances to see Money but I foolishly passed. He was supposed to play the “Round House”, now McKenzie Arena back in the days back when “Shakin’” was all over the radio and maybe, “Take Me Out Tonight” but for some reason the show was cancelled. That was happening a lot back in the day at the arena. Of course now we’re lucky if one show a year comes to McKenzie. But I digress. Not only did I get to see Squeeze at a sold out at The Tabernacle, the show was the last one of the North American tour.
Filtering into the venue I saw faces of all ages. That made sense. Tilbrook and Difford were often called their generation’s Lennon and McCartney. Before I read any press on them that was my impression listening to their songs except without the proper fanfare. In actuality I actually like their songs better than most of The Beatles. There is more of an emotional connect because they are of my era and quite frankly heads and shoulders above other ‘80s bands that have sold a ton more records plus Squeeze as a band had much better chemistry between the two with no known personal issues between band members. Plus they fit perfectly inside my wheelhouse of a band with great music that everyone that hears them loves but rarely if ever chart. One day I’ll make a list of my favorite bands so you can shake your head at, and these guys are in the top five.
There was a great buzz going through the crowd. Everyone was smiling and no one minded the full house. Then the lights went down and Squeeze took the stage complete with two percussionists and one keyboard player and another who split time between keyboards and guitar. The band started the night with “Footprints” off of Babylon On and On followed by “Big Beng” off 1985’s Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti, the band’s comeback album after their first hiatus in 1982. It was obvious during “Hourglass” this was no ordinary show. The crowd from the floor to the balcony started to sway in unison and before you knew it became a crowd sing-along never more obvious than during “Tempted”. By far the band’s most popular song. The song started acoustically with Tibrook front and center as the rest of the band watched. Tilbrook needed no help because everyone in the house was already singing along and harmonizing. When Tilbrook came to the lyrics, “I’m at the car park, the airport; the baggage carousel” Difford answered with the bass parts (“(The people keep on grindin’)” and “(It’s no story I could tell)”) you could hear a pin drop with everyone mesmerized. One by one each member started playing along to the grand finale that saw a few thousand people singing along at the top of their lungs.
It wasn’t long after that and to be honest just before this moment I started to tear up. Personally for the first time on a long time I was in a moment of true ecstasy. I was witnessed one of my favorite bands (top five) perform songs I love (many of which I sand along to – good tings it was loud and everyone else was as well). Not only that everyone around me was in the same great mood – a rarity. There is no greater joy in the world than that moment – at least to me. Then I became sad. This may not only be the last time I get to see the band in concert, but also perhaps maybe ever. After all, Squeeze has been around for 45 years, so how much longer do they really want to keep doing it? Reality makes me sad at times.
Following “Tempted” the band played a couple of favorites off Argybargy, “Another Nail in My Heart” and “If I Didn’t Love You” that were sandwiched around “Goodbye Girl” off of 1978’s Cool For Cats.
After taking a very short break the band came back for an encore and played “Take Me I’m Yours” and the aforementioned song that introduced many in the MTV generation to the band, “Black Coffee in Bed” – another sing along whether it was the initial intention of the band or not.
Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)
Up the Junction
King George Street
Annie Get Your Gun
Slaughtered, Gutted and Heartbroken
The Day I Get Home
Someone Else’s Heart
Is That Love
Cool for Cats
Love’s Crashing Waves (Difford & Tilbrook cover)
Another Nail in My Heart
If I Didn’t Love You
Take Me I’m Yours
Black Coffee in Bed
– Dave Weinthal